A top government watchdog says in a new report that it was unable to confirm the exact number of children and parents that have been separated under the Trump administration’s inhumane “zero tolerance” policy because border officials failed to implement needed technology to track families being ripped apart. In some cases, investigators said, officials became aware of a separation only because a different agency tasked with overseeing separated kids notified them about it.
Past investigations have found officials failed to track separations and the Department of Homeland Security inspector general continued to confirm that, saying “DHS did not have the IT system functionality needed to accurately track and account for the total number of families separated during the Zero Tolerance Policy period.” Customs and Border Protection officials apparently devised their own ways to try to track these separations, “but these techniques introduced data errors that further hindered ICE [Enforcement and Removal Operations] officers’ ability to track migrant parents separated from their children.”
“Data errors were so extensive that a Border Patrol Chief expressed embarrassment at the number of inaccuracies documented by field personnel,” investigators continued. In some instances, they said, officials collected no data at all, and only found out they had ripped families apart because Health and Human Services facilities to which the stolen children were sent informed them. “For example, in one case, an Arizona-based nonprofit organization contacted DHS about a deaf minor who had been separated from his father by Border Patrol. Upon ICE’s review, the child’s official case record discussed neither the separation nor the child’s disability.”
The cruelty has always been intentional: The report says that officials proceeded with state-sanctioned kidnapping in 2018 even though they were very much aware after “piloting” family separation in 2017 that they lacked adequate tracking technology. They knew there was no system in place, yet they were prepared to go far beyond this catastrophe: The report reveals that officials had planned to kidnap upwards of 26,000 children before a federal judge’s June 2018 order blocked the policy.
The report says that the rights of children were also being violated far beyond the separations themselves. Under official policy, kids are not supposed to be held in Border Patrol custody for longer than 72 hours, but investigators found that “39 percent of separated children were held beyond 72 hours, including 192 children who remained in CBP facilities for more than 6 days—twice the time limit allowed. CBP held six children in custody during Zero Tolerance for 10 days or more.”
This matters because Border Patrol facilities are cages and pens unfit for any human being, and children have in fact died while in the agency’s custody. Congressional Democrats who later visited the border facility where 7-year-old Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin and her dad were first held before she died in December 2018 condemned the conditions there, with Rep. Al Green of Texas saying, “The only reason why this facility is still open as it is now is because these cameras can’t get in.”
While the inspector general’s report says that investigators were unable to confirm the exact number of separated families, an estimate using government information and findings from advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union puts the number of children stolen before, during, and after this humanitarian disaster at nearly 5,500. To add to the administration’s cruelty and lawlessness, more than 1,000 of those children were stolen after the judge’s order terminating the policy.
“Without a reliable account of all family relationships, we could not validate the total number of separations, or reunifications,” the report concludes. Stunning, and one more reason that Donald Trump’s humanitarian disasters have always been reason enough to impeach him. "The administration's family separation policy has stained the legacy of our nation,” said California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a leader on immigration issues, “and will have lasting negative effects on those who were subjected to it."